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The Kaluapapa Memorial Act

President Barack Obama signs into law the legislation that created the Kalaupapa Memorial. Obama signed the law on March 30, 2009 that had earlier been passed by the US House and Senate. Obama is surrounded by leading members of the US House and Senate. Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson

“I want to see a monument honoring the people of Kalaupapa before I die. I want to see all their names.
These people are my friends – even though many of them died before I came here and I didn’t know them personally, in spirit we are all together. I know their hearts and souls.”


Olivia Breitha was sent to Kalaupapa in 1937 and authored the book, “Olivia: My Life of Exile in Kalaupapa.” Mrs. Breitha died Sept. 28, 2007 without seeing the monument she so dearly wanted.

The Kalaupapa Memorial Act, which authorizes Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa to establish a Memorial listing the names of those who were sent to the peninsula because of government policies regarding leprosy, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 30, 2009.

“I’m just so excited knowing that maybe our vision will come to light,” said Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa, newly elected president of the ‘Ohana and a longtime supporter of a memorial honoring the estimated 8,000 people sent to Kalaupapa.

Makia Malo, a member of the ‘Ohana Board of Directors, had a similar reaction. “This is fabulous news, so fabulous,” said Malo, an accomplished storyteller and musician. “This memorial is for the entire community, it’s for everyone who was sent to Kalaupapa. In many ways, they are all my family.”

A memorial located on the Kalaupapa peninsula has been talked about by the community since the mid-1980s, said Kahilihiwa. It was a top recommendation at a 1996 workshop at Kalaupapa where residents, officials, family members and friends discussed the future of the settlement and how to best preserve the history.

The Memorial will recognize the sacrifices and accomplishments of those who lived and died at Kalaupapa while bringing to life the mission statement of the ‘Ohana: “E Ho`ohanohano a E Ho`omau….To Honor and To Perpetuate.”

The Kalaupapa community asked Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa to make pursuing a Memorial a priority during the ‘Ohana’s organizational meeting in August, 2003. A Memorial Committee was established, its members mostly Kalaupapa residents or family members whose ancestors are buried on the peninsula. Two of the original members of the committee – Piolani Motta and Bunnie Reeser – wanted to see a Memorial built because, despite numerous searches, they could not find the graves of their ancestors who had died at Kalaupapa. Motta wanted to make sure that her grandmother, Becky Perry Huleia, would always be remembered and Reeser wanted the same for her great-grandmother, Rosina Weber.

Using a proposal prepared by the Memorial Committee, The Kalaupapa Memorial Act was introduced to the US House of Representatives by then Representative Ed Case in December, 2005. Case’s Chief of Staff, Esther Kia`aina, helped the ‘Ohana draft the language. Having Kia`aina involved made the process even more special: her great-grandparents, John Kia`aina, Jr. and Mary Lucas Lujon died at Kalaupapa and are buried there.

Case left the House of Representatives before the law could pass. His successor, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, re-introduced the bill and worked tirelessly until it was passed on the floor of the House of Representatives on Feb. 12, 2008. Senator Daniel Akaka introduced a companion bill to the Senate which passed the Kalaupapa Memorial Act as part of The Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 on March, 25, 2009. Days later, President Obama then signed the bill into law.

“The passage of this law should be a proud moment for all Americans. We will now be able to recognize the Hansen’s disease patients of Kalaupapa for the way they led dignified, inspirational lives under extremely challenging circumstances,” said Hirono.  

Mazie hookupu.jpg

Congresswoman Mazie Hirono places ho`okupu at the base of a tree on the site of the Old Baldwin Home at Kalawao that is the preferred location of Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa for the Kalaupapa Memorial. The exact site for the Memorial will be determined during an Environmental Assessment. Valerie Monson photo

The completed Kalaupapa Memorial will list the names of the estimated 8,000 people who were isolated on the peninsula beginning in 1866. The Memorial will not only serve as a permanent tribute to these individuals, but also as a type of tombstone for many of them.

The National Park Service has been able to identify just 1,300 marked graves at Kalawao/Kalaupapa, meaning that nearly 6,700 people who died there have no tombstone. Family members looking for a place to pay tribute and find closure and healing often go away brokenhearted.

Kahilihiwa said that the Memorial will bring the people of Kalaupapa back into history – and make the history of Kalaupapa a more complete history.

“When you see all the names, it will be just like all of the people of Kalawao and Kalaupapa will be right there before you,” he said.

Anticipating the day when the Memorial will be unveiled, Kahilihiwa said simply: “It will bring tears to my eyes.”

Hirono praised the ‘Ohana for the years of “hard work, perseverance and patience” to get the Kalaupapa Memorial Act passed.

“I would like to thank the members of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa for their ongoing efforts in establishing this memorial.  I will continue to work with them until the Kalaupapa Memorial becomes a reality,” said Hirono.

The ‘Ohana is beginning the Environmental Assessment process with Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Among the components of the Memorial that still need to be decided are the location and the design guidelines. The ‘Ohana is responsible for all the fund-raising. This website will updated as progress happens.

"It is good for people to remember who were there before us. It is just like those who went to war and had died, there are monuments with their names on it. There were thousands who were sent to Kalaupapa. My mother was also sent to Kalaupapa."

who was sent to Kalaupapa In 1940

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